Archive | February, 2009

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Interview with Line6 co-founder Marcus Ryle

Posted on 27 February 2009 by diode

Music Gear Daily recently had the opportunity to interview Marcus Ryle, co-founder of Line6, about everything from his early days with Oberheim to founding Fast Forward Designs, Line6 and beyond. Part two featuring Michel Doidic should follow in the coming weeks.

How did you first get involved in music electronics?

I started piano lessons when I was seven, and was interested in music from as early as I can remember. My father was an engineer who did pioneering early work in computers, and was always interested in technology. When I was about 11, he told me about a “new” thing called a Moog synthesizer, and played for me a record titled “Moog: The Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman”. It was certainly one of those life-changing events for me, much like “Switched-On Bach” was for many others. I was determined to figure out how I could get my own synth, and with the help of my paper route and other odd jobs, managed to buy a used white-faced ARP Odyssey when I was 13 in 1974.

It wasn’t long before I felt the need to open it up, start tweaking trimmers, etc., and when things would occasionally stop working, necessity led to an early trial-and-error electronics education. I quickly started collecting other used gear, often broken, and would repair and resell them in order to fund the next set of gear I’d want. Next up was building some synth kit parts (from PAIA), making mods (cutting down an M3 and a B3 Hammond), and trying to find new ways to make sounds. I was also fortunate in that my father bought an early Apple II computer, so I was also able to start teaching myself how to write software (although a few pitched beeps was the best you could get out of an early computer).

At 16, I left high school and started attending Cal State Dominguez Hills. They had just installed a new recording studio and synth lab, so it was heaven for me – lots of ARP 2600s, two large panels full of Emu synth modules, a 3M M56 2” 16 track tape recorder, etc. Other than the occasional electronics or computer course, I hung out in the studio practically day and night, recording, modifying gear, and so on, and due to the lack of available staffing, quickly found myself teaching labs and then classes in recording and electronic music.

Can you tell us about your stint at Oberheim, some of the projects you worked on there, and eventually how you decided to form Fast Forward Designs?

I was at Dominguez Hills for a few years, and managed to get the school one of the few New England Digital Synclaviers in early 1979. I think it was the only one in California, and I created a class to teach programming on it. I managed to get NED to send me the source code so that we could experiment with programming our own algorithms on it with the students. In 1980, Tom Oberheim had heard that we had one of these “new” digital synthesizers, and came down to give a guest lecture and to check out the synth. At that time, I still imagined that I’d never have to get a “real” job – I was recording music with an original band, and playing gigs with several others, and just assumed I’d have a career as a musician, or possibly a recording engineer. But after I’d shown Tom the Synclavier, he offered me a job to work at Oberheim. This was not a path I’d considered before, but the lure of being surrounded by fat expensive synths was pretty compelling. When I started there, the only other engineers on staff were Tom and Jim Cooper. I was 19, I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and eagerly took on the task of designing the Oberheim DSX (digital polyphonic sequencer). About three months after I started, Michel Doidic came over from France to work at Oberheim for what was originally going to be three months. But instead, he stayed almost five years, and during that time we worked together on the OB-Xa, OB-8, XPander, Matrix-12, and Matrix-6.

In 1985, although Oberheim had been continuing to grow, it was facing the business strains that often affect entrepreneurial companies – challenges with inventory management, cash flow, etc. A series of concerning events at the company, plus the advice of a family friend, led me to leave Oberheim in April of that year. I did not have a specific plan of what I was going to do next, but was fortunate enough at that time to be generating independent income both as a studio musician and through performing with my band with my wife, Susan Wolf. Coincidentally, an ex-Oberheim employee, Geoff Farr, had a musical instrument distribution company called Europa Technologies that was distributing products from a German company called Dynacord in the US. Geoff heard that I’d left Oberheim, and called me that same week to tell me that the heads of Dynacord were in town and were looking for technical people to design next generation products for them. I agreed to meet with them to see what might develop. At the same time, Michel was also growing concerned with the situation at Oberheim, and ended up leaving a week after I did. I asked him if he’d be interested in pursuing this Dynacord opportunity together, and he said yes. We had our first meeting, they asked if we could design a digital drum system, we said yes, and Fast Forward Designs was born in May of 1985. Michel and I jumped into designing what was to become the Dynacord ADD-one, and Susan took responsibility for the business and administrative areas of the company.

What were the early days of Fast Forward like and who were some of your clients?

We were fortunate to have been given the opportunity to get started with Dynacord, and we quickly began working for other clients as well. Over the next ten years, we ended up developing five products with Dynacord, over 40 products with Alesis, plus several for clients like Digidesign, Fostex, Panasonic, and CAE/Leprecon. Our technical team grew to 11 engineers, many of whom are still with us today. We are probably most known for our role in developing Alesis’ Quadraverb, SR-16, Quadrasynths, and ADAT, as well as Digidesign’s SampleCell series of products. It was a lot of fun to help develop such a diverse range of products, some of which are still being sold today.

When/how/why did you decide to turn Fast Forward into Line6 and focus full time on innovating guitar technology?

By being consultants, we had the opportunity to develop our skills in a number of technical disciplines – analog and digital design, DSP and UI software on multiple platforms, mechanical design, custom chip design, defining product specifications and customer needs, etc. In addition, we were able to work closely with several different companies to learn what we liked and didn’t like about their organization and culture. By the mid-nineties, we felt we were ready to start developing our own products. At the same time, we felt that guitar players had not been given the opportunity to utilize technology in the way that keyboard players and recording engineers had been able to. Instant access to a wide range of sounds was being made available to most musicians, but guitarists still needed to spend a ton of money and interconnect a ton of gear if they wanted to have great tonal flexibility. We believed that Digital Signal Processing could be the answer, and set out on a research effort to see if we could faithfully replicate the tone and feel of vacuum tubes in software. This led to the introduction of our first amplifier, the AxSys 212, in August of 1996, and we’ve just been moving full speed on our quest for tone ever since.

These are some pretty rough times for everyone, what lies ahead for you and Line6?

The current economic climate has impacted virtually every industry, and musical instrument products are no exception. Although we have seen a downturn, we are very fortunate to be making products that provide value and innovation, and inspire creativity in musicians. As a result, we have not been impacted as severely as other companies. We also are fortunate enough to be profitable and to not have any debt, which enables us to continue investing in our future with our very talented staff. We are always working on new innovations that we hope will continue to inspire musicians for years to come.

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Razy-Works Vinyl Killer

Posted on 17 February 2009 by diode

This little product is fairly hilarious. Watch the video…it’s self explanatory.

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MIT Chameleon Guitar

Posted on 13 February 2009 by diode

Read the article from EETimes here


“researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have combined digital signal processing with a removable sound board, enabling the Chameleon guitar to change its sonic characteristics by changing the type of wood used for the sound board. The design also retains the same guitar body, neck and frets”

An article on the MIT website is here.

thanks to fansofcollision for finding this

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Moog System 55 modular synth

Posted on 10 February 2009 by diode

Great demo of a gorgeous Moog modular.

originally discovered on matrixsynth

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Sonuus G2M monophonic pitch to midi converter

Posted on 04 February 2009 by diode

The Sonuus G2M pitch to midi converter for guitar was featured at last month’s NAMM show in Los Angeles. Looks interesting and I’m very curious to get my hands on one to see if it actually performs as advertised. Latency/tracking is tricky business for all of us who’ve ever tried to use a guitar synth.

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Dynacord ADD-one rare drum machine

Posted on 03 February 2009 by diode

This is a somewhat rare but cool drum machine from the late 80′s. It uses an unusually high sample rate (for the time) of 50kHz. Sampling is done at 12-bits which is not surprising since 12 bit converters were very common back in the day. At that time most designs would have had  to use two DACs (one 12-bit, one 4-bit) working together to even accomplish 16-bit resolution. 

Dynacord designed the ADD-one in conjunction with Fast Forward Designs, a small engineering group in California that later went on to play major roles designing the SR-16 and the ADAT for Alesis (they became Line6 in the 90′s).

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